Friday, October 28, 2011

Today Was a Good Day

Aujourd'hui for the first time I met all my fellow volunteers, all 40 or so of them. I am impressed by the diversity of the group - we have volunteers of many different backgrounds and ages, as well as two married couples. Yes, both couples are adorable. Aren't you glad I knew you'd ask?

We had, all told, over 7 hours of orientation, or "staging," activities today. Almost everything was led by a wonderful RPCV from China (who also did PC with his wife - these married couples are everywhere!), who at first seemed a bit dry but ended up being quite energetic and charismatic. Because we had (almost) all just flown in and were a bit stressed out about our first official PC event as a group, plus nervous about meeting everyone else for the first time, 7 hours felt like a VERY long day. We did have a 20 minute break about 2/3 of the way through, and grabbed a bite to eat, but nonetheless it was an exhausting day.

What have I learned? First of all, this is an awesome group of volunteers. I can already tell there are a lot of special people who are very open, curious, engaged, motivated and present. It's unusual to find such a large group of people with all of these qualities, and so I'm totally psyched about spending the next two months in training with them. Oh, yes, by the way training will be two months, not three. How did that discrepancy come about? No idea.

What have I learned about Peace Corps and the next 26 months of my life? A ton, but much of it generally applicable to volunteers going to any country. We talked about PC policy toward blogs and communication (must get approval from Country Director for any blog or communication with the media), policy towards involvement in politics (totally disallowed), strategies for staying safe, our anxieties and aspirations, and many other things. We also were indoctrinated into the Core Expectations of Peace Corps:

1. Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months
2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed
3. Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service
4. Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work is based on the local trust and confidence you build by living in, and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community and culture
5. Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance 

6. Engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual learning, and respect
7. Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local and national laws of the country where you serve
8. Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health, safety, and well-being and that of others
9. Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and traditions of the United States of America
10. Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of your host country and community to people in the United States both during and following your service

To be honest, it wasn't until today that I really felt like I was part of Peace Corps, but now it feels official. PC has a way of being quite distant with its applicants sometimes, and I've never spent more than an hour talking to a Peace Corps staff member. Now I've got seven hours with PC staff under my belt in just one day! I definitely feel like I am ready to embody the ten Core Expectations and own them in a way that has been impossible until now.

As our orientation leader said today, we have finally passed all the hurdles from being an applicant to an invitee to a trainee. Now I just have to make it to being a volunteer ...

In nine hours, bus from Philly to JFK, flight from JFK to Brussels on American, connection at Brussels to Bamako on Brussels Air. One of the most manageable itineraries I've had in a while. Only two flights, and just seven hours each!